Andy Fitzpatrick was skating backward when the Nelson Leafs forward was tripped by a referee and went hard to the ice. The accident brought howls of approval from the Castlegar Rebels bench, and when regulation ended the visitors celebrated on ice with a sarcastic salute to the crowd.
It was that kind of game.
Six players were ejected during a fight-filled contest Friday that ended 5-3 in Castlegar’s favour. A second-period line brawl ended with three Leafs and two Rebels tossed out after a lengthy wait while the officials sorted out the melee.
The Rebels left town with their fourth straight win. The Leafs, meanwhile, are determined to move up in the standings if only so they can face Castlegar in the first round of the playoffs.
“More than anything in the whole world,” said Jordan Davie. “I want Castlegar for four or five games, whatever it takes us to beat them in a row, really badly.”
The violent interlude began with a fight between Nelson’s Levi Hulston and Castlegar’s Tyler Barrett. Instead of going straight to the locker-room, Barrett began taunting the crowd and the Leafs’ bench. He was knocked down by Nelson’s Matt Sokol, which kicked off several on-ice fights.
In the end, Hulston, Rayce Miller and Sokol were each ejected from the game while Castlegar lost Barrett and Daniel Petten. Incredibly, no players were sent to the penalty box.
Davie, who called Barrett the “champion who never drops his gloves,” said the brawl wouldn’t have happened if the refs had taken control of the game. Leafs head coach Mario DiBella, meanwhile, defended his team’s actions.
“I thought the boys responded by how they were being treated on the ice,” said DiBella. “You can’t run around the ice with your stick high and decide that’s just okay and skate away like you’re an innocent party and you’ve been victimized.”
Rebels head coach Jesse Dorrans, who had no issue with Barrett’s antics, said he thought the refs could have set a different tone early on.
“I think it was just a little something maybe the ref could have put a damper on it in the first when guys were starting to go after each other … either than that, let the players sort it out themselves.”
Referee Monty Taylor declined to comment after the game.
Logan Sawka made 38 saves, Tayden Woods scored twice and Ed Lindsay, Chris Breese and Nick Headrick each added singles for Castlegar (28-12-2).
Woods’ second goal in the opening minute of the third period put the game out of Nelson’s reach and quieted the crowd of 446 fans at the Nelson and District Community Complex, with the notable exception of a rowdy Castlegar contingent.
Patrick Ostermann made 23 saves and Max Daerendinger, Eamonn Miller and Fitzpatrick each scored for the suddenly stagnant Leafs (17-24-2), who fell for the fourth game in a row.
Woods was sitting at the side of the net with a wide-open look when he took a feed from Breese and put it past Ostermann just over four minutes into the game.
The Rebels made it 2-0 after a defensive miscue by the Leafs. Ostermann made a series of quick sprawling saves but was crowded by his own players when Lindsay pounced on a big rebound.
The game was scrappy from the start but had its first ugly scrum in the first period that ended with what appeared to be Castlegar player on top of Davie while he punched the Leafs veteran. The Rebels killed off the ensuing power play and moments later Breese slipped in another goal for a commanding 3-0 advantage.
DiBella said he thought poor backchecking by Nelson’s forwards was to blame for the poor start. Blue-liner Zach Morey, meanwhile, put the responsibility on the defence.
“Really we just didn’t come ready to play,” said Morey. “Those goals, if we were playing the way we should have in our systems, they definitely would not have happened.”
Bad vibes resulted in on-ice violence in the second.
Rayce Miller was on a breakaway when he was pushed from behind into the boards by Rebels forward Mike Bhatoa. That resulted in Bhatoa tossed from the game and a shaken Miller helped off the ice, although he later returned. Daerendinger scored his second goal of the year on the ensuing five-minute man advantage, cutting Nelson’s deficit to two goals.
After both teams acted out their Royal Rumble fantasies, the third period began with a quick Rebels goal. Woods extended the lead less than a minute in on soft shot that went top corner on Ostermann.
Eamonn Miller gave the Leafs a shot in the arm nearly seven minutes later unassisted on a slick shot that beat Sawka and cut the Rebels’ advantage to 4-2.
More fireworks erupted soon after.
Davie was crosschecked in the chin and left the ice bent over holding his face. As DiBella yelled at a linesman, Headrick marched in and scored on Ostermann for yet another Rebels goal. “[Davie’s] lucky to have his teeth,” said DiBella.
That only further incensed Nelson’s bench, and the Leafs took their time heading back to centre ice. Fitzpatrick went flying in on Sawka for a goal with two minutes left in the game, which would have been a highlight score if it hadn’t also been a moot point.
Dorrans was dismissive of Nelson’s offence after the game.
“If they’re willing to shoot from low percentage areas and they want to put it on the shot clock to make [Sawka] feel good, we’re okay with that,” said Dorrans. “Again, all that matters is the score. Never trust a shot clock on the road.”
The game was the second of three straight for the Leafs against Castlegar. They dropped the opener 2-1 on Jan. 23 and will get a rematch again at home next Friday. It’s a game the Leafs are already looking forward to, and one Davie expects will feature more fireworks.
“We can handle ourselves,” said Davie. “They should be worried.”
Notes: Leafs F Malcolm Fenelon left the team prior to the game. DiBella said Fenelon has a health issue that will keep him out for the remainder of the season. … Nelson was also missing D Kyle Chernenkoff (lower body) and F Nicholas Ketola, who was serving the second of a three-game suspension for checking a player to the head during a Jan. 16 game at home to Kimberley.